A coworker recently asked me what I meant when I said I had a show on season pass, and I realized that terminology comes from Tivo and since most people get their DVRs from their cable company, it might not be as ubiquitous as it is in my head. Anyway, the “season pass” list is the same as the “series record” list. It’s a set-it-and-forget-it setting for recording your favorite shows. Mine had about 60. Here they are:
American Crime (ABC): This is a slow, quiet, well-done show about complicated crimes and how our country doesn’t do so well with complicated crimes. It’s also a master class in directing. Truly, a beautiful show. I’m told a lot of the writers are playwrights and that makes total sense.
And Then There Were None (Lifetime): This was actually a miniseries, and it’s done now. It’s the Agatha Christie story, a classic about a group of people brought to a remote location and then systematically murdered. It’s been done to the point of parody, but I thought it might be good to be familiar with the source material. Eh.
Another Period (Comedy Central): Just picked up for a third season! (Season 2 starts airing June 15th.) If you liked Downton Abbey and are a fan of humor based on historical facts (cocaine wine, anyone?) this is a show for you. And me. It’s a show for me.
Arrow (CW): I do think the show has maybe outgrown its flashbacks, but as Ollie’s pack of superheroes has grown, the show has gotten stronger. This show stays away from actual superhumans, preferring people who have dedicated a significant portion of their lives to perfecting their abilities (and some tech) to get shit done. (Although they have recently introduced a few people with magic. Yes, magic.) I’m currently in my fourth round of physical therapy, so I am more than a little jealous of people who do backflips off of moving motorcycles while I’m restricted from yoga, but it’s still a fun show. (Part of the DC Universe.)
Better Call Saul (AMC): The Breaking Bad prequel we all desperately wanted and were terrified of at the same time. Because when has “prequel” ever equaled “good?” And on a TV series? But at the same time it’s Vince Gilligan, and how could we not trust him? He’s proven himself so much. Anyway, we were right to trust him. Although I could do with less spider imagery in the credits.
Billions (Showtime): While I don’t completely understand the financial markets, I have yet to hear anyone explain credit default swaps in a way that helps me understand why they’re not already illegal under existing laws. But this isn’t really about that. This is about one massively rich guy who believes that if it’s making him money, it’s the right thing to do, another massively rich guy who believes that if you’re making money, you must be breaking the law, and the woman married to one and working for the other.
black-ish (ABC): I don’t always agree with this show (Jack using the n-word in a talent show wasn’t hate speech, it was cursing) but it’s sensible enough to explain where it’s coming from most of the time, and I appreciate that. Plus it’s genuinely funny. The little girl who plays Diane will rule the world one day, if she wants to.
Broadchurch (BBC America): Has just started filming it’s third season, so we can probably expect that to hit our DVRs in the states in a year or so? The first season was about solving the crime. The second season was about proving it at trial. Not every episode or series decision has been fantastic, but the show overall is lovely.
Brooklyn Nine-Nine (Fox): See, this is how you do an ensemble comedy. Every character has their own quirks. There are even two separate characters whose defining trait is “stoic,” and yet they are stoic in completely different ways.
Call the Midwife (PBS): So I just found out that this show has been airing for the past eight weeks and my DVR declined to catch the new episodes. I am pissed off. No idea how to catch up since they don’t seem to be on demand, so I might have to wait for the season to hit Netflix. That’s a bad AT&T! Bad! Denying me my cute babies! (For what it’s worth, AT&T will say that it’s PBS’s fault for how they created the episode descriptions. I don’t care. I blame the carrier.)
Childrens Hospital (Adult Swim): Canceled. (Yes, a show is called “canceled” even if it’s the show creators who make the decision and not the network.) Originally created as a parody of Grey’s Anatomy and similarly-soapy hospital shows, it evolved to parody MASH, Behind the Scenes specials, old-tyme variety shows, even fan fiction (one of my favorite episodes). Not every episode was a hit, but they hit more than they missed, and that’s sort of an astounding thing to say. They also paved the way for Cartoon Network to create more live-action programming.
Crazy Ex-Girlfriend (CW): This is one of those shows that puts a lot of work into being realistic, even while having characters break into song several times an hour. The color-blind casting, complex sexuality, and plot points like Rebecca getting a UTI or running out of money are not by accident. Not every song speaks to every person, but likewise, every song has its own fans.
DC’s Legends of Tomorrow (CW): A spinoff of Arrow and Flash that takes minor characters from both shows and puts them together in a new show about time-traveling. While it’s fun, it’s also been struggling with the fact that there are a lot of characters, and they all have very complicated backstories. Of course, they’re also all fun to hang out with, so I’m loathe to suggest who to cut. (I know a couple characters were cut in the finale, but I believe the plan is to replace them next year, which does not solve the problem.) This show has people with tech, people with superpowers, and also time-travel. (Part of the DC universe.)
Doctor Who (BBC America): Will not be airing in 2016, but will return in 2017 for Steven Moffat’s last season as showrunner and a brand-new companion. This is a show that has veered from genuinely good to frustratingly awful so quickly that one of the things I’ve come to love about it is debating showrunners with other fans. But I must say, as much as I love to pick on Steven Moffat and hate hearing him say that he doesn’t care what anyone says, he does actually seem to be listening and improving. I still prefer Russell T. Davies, but I’m starting to feel justified in sticking around.
Elementary (CBS): Yes, another Sherlock series. There are some twists; Sherlock is a drug addict who is very sensitive to sensory stimulation – to the point where he solves crimes as a means of distracting himself from everything else going on in the world. But really, it’s about Johnny Lee Miller and Lucy Liu, and they are fantastic.
Empire (Fox): It’s soapy, it’s got hip-hop music, it’s got a couple of great characters, what more could you want? I mean, okay, some character consistency might be nice, but for a show about pretty, rich people being mean to each other, it gets the job done.
Full Frontal with Samantha Bee (TBS): If you’ve been relying on John Oliver for your news, you’re only 50% informed. Seriously, this show gives me life. My favorite episode so far: Sam Bee went to Texas to yell at the (male) legislator who was trying to close abortion clinics with building regulations, then she went to the president of NARAL and yelled at her for not being prepared to fight this tactic with anything more substantial than Facebook memes. She’s a dense speaker, which is another way of saying that every word she says is gold.
Galavant (ABC): I mean, we all knew this was coming. The writers wrote a couple of songs about it. But still, it’s a sad thing. Galavant was the little show that could! Until, you know, it didn’t.
Game of Thrones (HBO): I was explaining recently to a friend who doesn’t watch the show that in the beginning, this show was big on setting someone up to be the main character and then killing them off. Now that we’re in the second half of the series, it’s easier to see who the main characters will be in the end game. But everyone else could still die in truly heartbreaking ways. (Although the writers of the show have said that George RR Martin told them the three things that were left to happen in the books that were pivotal moments. One happened at the end of last season. The second happened recently. The third is the end of the series. So maybe not so much more heartbreak for a while?)
Girlfriends’ Guide to Divorce (Bravo): This is an excellent show for binge-watching. I find I’m not that into it when I only get an hour a week, but if I save up and watch a whole day’s worth, it’s a lot of fun and I get really invested. The lead actress was making a social media push for a while because they hadn’t gotten renewed right away after season 2 ended, which made me think they were on the bubble, and then they were picked up for several more seasons. Whoo!
Grimm (NBC): Remember when this show premiered at the same time as Once Upon a Time and everyone thought only one fairy tale show could survive in the landscape of lawyer/cop/doctor shows? Remember when it was a procedural? I think there have been a couple missteps in developing canon (it turns out humans never commit crimes – only wesen [secretly human/animal magic beings] do) but overall it’s developed a rich mythology with complex characters.
How to Get Away with Murder (ABC): Still on. I just lost my patience for it. But I was telling a friend that I think it’s fascinating that Oliver was created as a character to be sacrificed. That was his entire raison d’etre. So the writers made him loveable, because they wanted his death to mean something to the audience. But they did too good a job and it quickly became clear that if they killed him off there would be a huge audience backlash. Now, like Tinkerbell, only our faith is keeping him alive.
Humans (AMC): This is that British co-production about robots that look like people, and some of them also feel like people and so are exploring what it really means to be people. There’s a good chance you haven’t heard of it. But you should look it up! It’s sort of like an extended episode of Black Mirror. (Black Mirror is on Netflix. I’ll have to do a separate list for streaming sometime.)
In the Flesh (BBC America): This show was apparently never canceled, it simply ceased to exist. Which makes me sad. This is a show that 1) took the zombie genre and did something new with it and 2) exemplified how sci-fi is supposed to be used, which is to say, zombies were a metaphor. A really well-done metaphor. If you have some time (and a little extra money), I recommend looking this up on Amazon.
Inside Amy Schumer (Comedy Central): I think it’s the AV Club that was saying that Amy Schumer’s show is more about female celebrities and less about the more universal experiences of being female this year, but I still think she does a great job of pinpointing what it is, exactly, that sucks so bad about sexism. It’s one of those laugh/cry shows. I love it. I especially recommend looking up the sketches from last year where she plays a military-themed video game and the one parodying Friday Night Lights.
iZombie (CW): Also based on a comic book, although not a particularly popular one. It’s got a real Veronica Mars vibe to it, which is not a surprise. The premise is pretty simple: a zombie works in the medical examiner’s office to get her needed supplies of fresh brains, but when she eats a brain she has visions of the dead person’s memories and uses these to help the police solve murders. While there have been a few episodes that were solved by a last-minute memory, most of the time Liv’s visions just complicate the case and the crime is actually solved through good-old-fashioned police work.
Jane the Virgin (CW): Another soap (specifically, telenovela) that makes an effort to keep things real… to a point. They’ll do an episode about the difficulties of breastfeeding, because the writers are frustrated that this isn’t something we regularly talk about in our culture. And then another character’s long-lost twin shows up. In the end, the show isn’t about the amazing plot twists, it’s about how the characters react to them. And that’s an important distinction.
Killjoys (SyFy): Bounty hunters in space! No, really, it’s a dystopian-future story about underdogs trapped in the system slowly realizing that their entire society is corrupt and they can, in fact, change it. And kick major ass in the process. It is “harder” sci-fi, but if you’re up for alien worlds, I totally recommend this one.
Last Week Tonight with John Oliver (HBO): You should seriously be getting 50% of your news from this show. The clips are all on Youtube, if you don’t have HBO. You can go check them out now. I’ll wait.
Limitless (CBS): This one breaks my heart.
Madam Secretary (CBS): Sometimes it seems like a stupid American tourist is getting in trouble and needs the government to save them every week. And other times the Russian president is executed in a coup and his wife, who killed him, invades another country. In other words, sometimes it hews a little close to truth and other times it goes massively big. They did finally decide to just go with an alternate history thing, and it is a smart show that surprises me while still being generally pleasant.
Marvel’s Agent Carter (ABC): While, again, this didn’t come as a surprise to anyone, it’s still a shame. Agent Peggy Carter was fantastic, as were the supporting characters. If you’ve watched the Captain America movie (the first one), this is set after Steve Rogers is frozen in ice but before he’s recovered and thawed. This is about how his girlfriend carries on without him and, much more importantly, goes on to found SHIELD and generally be a kick-ass and fully-formed person in a time when society denied that those things could possibly be true of a woman. (Marvel Comics Universe, but set just after WWII.)
Marvel’s Agents of SHIELD (ABC): The lone survivor of Marvel network shows. (There was a planned spinoff of this show that didn’t make the cut at the Upfronts.) While this show is influenced by the movies, it does not influence the movies, which can make it a little difficult if you’re not in the habit of seeing a movie on opening weekend. In this show, superheroes are generally Inhumans, who are people with some alien DNA (they don’t know this in advance) which, when activated, gives them supernatural powers. (Marvel Comics Universe.)
Masterpiece (PBS): This is what you put on your DVR to watch Downton Abbey and Sherlock. It has a bunch of series. Just cancel whichever recordings you’re not interested in.
Modern Family (ABC): The season finale was actually pretty good. It didn’t work for everyone, but I liked not trying to bring everyone together or creating odd pairings of people. But that is most of what the show has become, and it’s just not shiny and new like it once was. I’m not mad at it or anything. I’m just not watching anymore.
Mr. Robot (USA): The way people talk about this show, you might be led to believe that it’s genius from the very first episode. The truth is, it’s a slow burn. In the last few episodes, everything suddenly snaps together and explodes, but until then you can be forgiven for wondering what everyone’s talking about. So, if you’re going to catch up before the season 2 premiere, be patient.
Nashville (ABC): I like this show for having on while I’m doing laundry or cooking dinner or internetting. If I sat and actually paid attention, I might be temped to stab the next 16-yr-old I see. So while I liked it, I’m a little baffled by how passionately some people are fighting for it to find a new home. Do you really want to know what happened to Juliette’s plane? I do not want to know what happened to Juliette’s plane.
New Girl (Fox): This quirky group of people is a little more cartoony than Brooklyn Nine-Nine (if you ran into any of them individually, you would be immediately put off) but they also have moments of real emotion and capability. They only make sense as a group. Good thing they found each other, then.
Newsreaders (Adult Swim): This one’s been off the air for quite a while, so I’m not sure what’s going on with it. It’s in the vein of Children’s Hospital, but set at a news show instead of a hospital.
Once Upon a Time (ABC): I’m a sucker for fairy tales for adults. I mean, I still demand some sort of character development, and as much as I love when it’s done right I feel very passionately when it’s done wrong, but I do own the box set of Faerie Tale Theatre. This show can sometimes feel like it’s going in circles, but it does also expand the universe in interesting ways. (The Wonderland spinoff should totally have had a steampunk theme, though.)
Orphan Black (BBC America): This is the show about clones, meaning Tatiana Maslany plays most of the main characters (I think she had 9 characters at last count.) She does an amazing job of not just portraying each of them, but even when one clone is pretending to be another clone, you can tell just from watching. She said once that she had an acting teacher who told her that every character should have their own theme song, just a song that’s playing in the back of her head to help her know the movements and rhythms of that character. Which sounds brilliant and looks like it’s working.
Penny Dreadful (Showtime): A penny dreadful is a Victorian literary story that would come out in weekly installments, each costing a penny, and were generally monster and horror stories. They were aimed at teenage boys, which is kind of funny because this series absolutely is not. This series is about all of the famous monsters of the Victorian era, living at the same time in London and trying to take over the world, each in their own way. It’s a beautiful show, definitely not for the young or faint-of-heart, that’s gotten much better as the characters have been allowed to evolve their own motives and secret shames. But again, less spider imagery would be appreciated.
Portlandia (IFC): This one’s a little bit of a cheat because Carrie Brownstein is technically family. But also, it’s a fun show. While it’s about how weird Portland can be, it’s really about hipster culture, which anyone in a city right now can appreciate. While I have several episodes saved for repeated viewing on my DVR, my go-to is always One Moore Episode. (sic)
Ray Donovan (Showtime): This is a personal bubble show. Paula Malcomson’s accent is painful – and inconsistent. (“You ahh my sisterr!”) It’s inspired by Whitey Bulger but not about Whitey Bulger, which is fine, but while the original joke was about people in Hollywood who think they’re really important being terrified by someone threatening physical violence, that’s really been played out. Ray routinely brings guns to knife fights. At what point do we root for him to be arrested?
Reign (CW): I think my favorite comment from the AV Club would be when someone pointed out that in actual 15th century France, all of these women would be burned as witches if they wore the modern prom dresses all of the characters wear. There’s a bit of the sense of how hard life must have been when you could die from seriously anything, including an ear infection, and proving someone’s guilt largely meant proving they were the type of person who would have done something like this, but in general the show is far less focused on historical realism than people running around in amazing countrysides. And the fact that these royals were really teenagers, and what that meant as far as international relations. Heh. “Relations.”
RuPaul’s Drag Race (Logo): I am obsessed with the concept of “performing female,” I think partly because it’s something that’s not a part of my life I have to think about too much. I am female, I was born female, but I do not perform female. I don’t wear makeup or heels unless necessary (yes, sometimes it’s necessary) but I love having the option of dresses and skirts. But it’s only partly about female, and a lot more about performing yourself and all the different ways that can look. For added fun, check out Untucked on Youtube and marvel at how small all the production assistants look standing next to the queens.
Saturday Night Live (NBC): I like getting up on Sunday and having this to watch while I eat breakfast. Sometimes it’s good, sometimes it’s bad, sometimes it’s like watching that play on Game of Thrones, but it’s always more culturally relevant than you think.
Sleepy Hollow (Fox): This used to be a show that retconned everything we know about colonial history into a story about how the founding fathers were actually fighting Moloch, a demon who was trying to bring about the apocalypse. And then it just got ridiculous. I know, it’s a thin line, but they crossed it. I’m not as concerned about the decision to kill off Abbie as I am with how they’re going to keep the story going – with Ichabod looking for the next Witness to take her place. This bothers me for two reasons: 1) Jenny is already right there! The inciting incident that made Abbie a Witness (watching the horseman rise, if I recall, but I’m way too lazy to look it up now), Jenny was also there and witnessed. Frankly, the fact that the two Witnesses are Abbie and Ichabod and not Abbie and Jenny has always bothered me. And 2) If being a Witness is like being a slayer, and when one dies the next one is called, then when Katrina had Ichabod buried alive what she was really doing was making sure the country was down a Witness and basically defenseless for a couple centuries. Not cool, Katrina. We’re adding to your pile of sins.
South Park (Comedy Central): I’d say about 50% of the time, this show is good, 25% is awful and 25% is amazing. That’s really not a bad ratio, and this past season overall added up to something really good. One of my coworkers was bemoaning the Warcraft movie (I pointed out there’s an Angry Birds movie so his point is moot) and he conceded that actually Warcraft lends itself well to a narrative story. I said yes, South Park did a great Warcraft episode, and recommended he look it up.
Supergirl (CBS): Moving to the CW. Not sure if I’ll follow (rumor has it Calista Flockhart refuses to work outside of Los Angeles, which, since the filming is moving to Vancouver to lower costs, might mean losing Cat Grant) but either way I’d have to reset my DVR. (Part of the DC Universe, and I highly recommend checking out their crossover episode with The Flash, if you haven’t already.)
(BTW, I also don’t like that AT&T alphabetizes everything starting with “The” under T. I wish, at a minimum, this was an option I could turn off.)
The 100 (CW): I am not caught up on this season for reasons that are complex and difficult to explain, but I have seen until this season. It’s a much harder sci-fi than it seems at first glance, another dystopian future story about the world basically repopulating after a massive nuclear war. There are fun moments, like Isaiah Washington literally grabbing a staff and leading people across the desert to the Promised Land, where they have to battle Shrieking Eels, and when the kids are totally bored with trees about two seconds after seeing them for the first time, but it’s also making a point about leadership and compromise.
The Americans (FX): The AV Club ran an interesting article about how, while for generations American movies often had Russian villains, Russia rarely reciprocated. In Russian movies, American were typically bumbling victims, fools who were easily manipulated by the true bad guys. This season of the show has focused on the teenage daughter, Paige, finding out that her parents are Russian spies and being unexpectedly asked to be loyal to a mother country she’s never known and, in fact, been indoctrinated pretty heavily against. In the world of the show, it’s 1983 and the whole country just sat down and watched The Day After. I was too young to see the movie when it aired on TV, but when I worked on Jericho I got a bit of an understanding of how freaked out people were by it. Answer: they were really freaked out by it.
The Daily Show with Trevor Noah (Comedy Central): When Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert were on, I’d get home from work and put the shows on while I puttered around making dinner, doing laundry, etc. And then I’d save the recordings and watch them all again on Fridays, when I could really sit and pay attention but needed to laugh. I find I can’t do that with Trevor Noah and Larry Wilmore. I still put their shows on as soon as I get home from work, but the amount of attention I’m paying is really the proper amount they’re requesting of me.
The Flash (CW): Of all the superhero shows, this is the one that makes being a superhero seem like so much fun! In this show, superheroes are “meta-humans” who largely got their powers from a nuclear particle explosion and typically have very on-the-nose names. (Roy G. Bivolo uses color frequencies to manipulate people, for instance.) Many episodes have scientific inaccuracies so blatant they make me fall over laughing (they once froze laser beams and then broke them like icicles) but it’s all in good fun. You may hear some anger from fans because the season finale completely reset the entire universe of the show, but I’m taking a very “wait and see” attitude to that. (Part of the DC Universe.)
The Good Wife (CBS): Its watch has ended. Sometimes a good show, sometimes a fantastic show, you can debate the finale all you like but in the end, it stands on its own. The creators, Robert and Michelle King, are doing the summer series BrainDead for CBS.
The Last Man on Earth (Fox): This is one of those shows that I probably shouldn’t watch, because it veers a little close to wish fulfillment for me. Now, every time I’m stuck in traffic, I’m wondering why all life on Earth can’t just end. And when Carol goes into a craft store and just goes nuts, I frown a little harder at the Hobby Lobby by my apartment that I will only enter under apocalyptic conditions. When it’s best for me is when it’s clear that people need society to survive, and this show is about what you do when it turns out that all of the people left are crazy or assholes or both. It can be very, very sad. It can also be very, very funny.
The Leftovers (HBO): It’s hard to describe this show in a way that makes people want to watch it. It’s like when The 4400 came out and everyone was like, “oh that’s the alien abduction show” and you had to explain that there were no aliens to get them to watch. (Which was true, by the way. There were no aliens in The 4400.) Except in this case, by all accounts, it is some form of rapture that happens. 2% of the world’s population just disappears. And some are good people and some are bad people, and they come from all faiths and it really seems to be random. And there will never be a definitive answer in the show to exactly what happened, because that’s not the point. It’s about what the other 98% of the population does. For the most part, they lose their damn minds.
The Muppets (ABC): I liked it. I might be the only one who did. I feel pretty unapologetic about that, but also I understand a network won’t keep a show around just for me.
The Nightly Show with Larry Wilmore (Comedy Central): This show has taken a long time to find it’s format, and what it’s found is… eh. It was lucky enough to start just before the Black Lives Matter movement really took off, and Larry Wilmore did a great bit where he went to Baltimore and spoke with the protestors that the police claimed to be so afraid of. And I thought, “yes, that is what this show is, and it’ll be great.” And they haven’t done anything even remotely like that since. Larry, stop taking stupid, “no, but seriously, how much do you really hate Trump?” questions from audience members and go back outside of the box!
The People v. OJ Simpson: American Crime Story (FX): This was a surprisingly more entertaining and insightful series than I was expecting. Each episode not only moved the story forward chronologically, it also focused on a thematic element of the trial, and that can’t have been easy. It’s deleted not because I don’t intend to watch season 2, but because season 2 will have a new title so the DVR won’t recognize it. I’ll have to set it manually two weeks before it premieres.
True Detective (HBO): Apparently likely to be canceled. There was as much interesting stuff swirling around this show for me as in it. Like, I watched that “time is a flat circle” speech from the first season, and my thought was, “oh, he’s a nihilist.” I knew lots of guys like that, mostly in college. (It tends to overlap with the emo/goth phases of life.) And then they outgrew it. So to me, the message of that scene was to say that Cohle was immature. And then everyone else watched it, and the general message seemed to be, “wow, Cohle is really smart!” Which, sure, he’s using big words, but there’s a lot more to smartness than that. And then someone pointed out that nihilism is an actual philosophy that’s been written about extensively forever, and suddenly Nic Pizzolatto was being accused of plagiarism. I feel like once again, I am baffled by the average person, and probably so was Nic. So then how could season 2 live up to that? When your genius is built on people fundamentally misunderstanding what you say, are you supposed to be weirder? Or try to be more on their level? It also suffered from a bit of that thing where someone who’s fit in his entire life tries to be insightful about people who do not fit in and fails. Still, I would watch a third season if there was one. It makes for fantastic watercooler talk.